Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 5/19/2019: Conflicts, Hypocrisy, Censorship, And Creeping Totalitarianism…Praise The Lord.

1. I love headlines like this. The Times tells us (in its print edition) , “Party Hosted By Drug Company Raises Thorny Issues.” Really? A group of top cosmetic surgeons had all their expenses paid to attend a promotional event in Cancun for a new competing drug for Botox. The doctors were fed, feted, invited to parties and given gifts, then they went on social media and gushed about the product. The “thorny issue”: Should they have informed their followers that they had just received all sorts of benefits and goodies from the drug manufacturer to encourage their good will? (Because none of them did mention this little detail.)

Wow! What a thorny issue! I’m stumped!

Of COURSE it was unethical not to point out that their sudden enthusiasm for the product had been bought and paid for. This is the epitome of the appearance of impropriety, and an obvious conflict of interest. The Times article chronicles the doctors’ facile, self-serving and disingenuous arguments that they didn’t have such an ethical obligation, but the fact that these are unethical professionals in thrall to an infamously unethical industry doesn’t make the ethics issue “thorny.”

2. The Assholes of Taylor University. Vice-President Mike Pence was the commencement speaker at Taylor University, and when he moved  to the podium, thirty or so students rose and walked out on him, in a smug and indefensible demonstration of assholery. The University should withhold the diplomas of every single one of these arrogant slobs until they each author a sincere letter of apology to the Vice-President, who was the school’s invited guest. Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Masterpiece Cake Shop Decision

The Supreme Court ruled today in favor of Jack Phillips, the Christian baker in Colorado who refused to bake a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The Court  found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission infringed on Phillips’s rights in ruling that he violated the Colorado anti-discrimination law barring merchants from refusing service based on race, sex, marital status, or sexual orientation. The ruling is narrow; it does not empower merchants to deny service based on sexual orientation.  It is based entirely on  the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s  hostility toward Phillips’s religious views in ruling against him.

Observations:

1. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were the only dissenting votes, meaning that the decision was 7-2, and not a “conservative vs liberal” outcome. Even the dissent is based on narrow legal and factual distinctions rather than ideological ones.

2. Read the opinion, and the dissent. Also, if you really want to impress your friends, access the resources available here.

3. These statements from Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion, cited by Justice Ginsberg, help clarify matters in the right legal and ethical direction:

  • “[I]t is a general rule that [religious and philosophical] objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.”
  • “Colorado law can protect gay persons, just as it can protect other classes of individuals, in acquiring whatever products and services they choose on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public.”
  • “[P]urveyors of goods and services who object to gay marriages for moral and religious reasons [may not] put up signs saying ‘no goods or services will be sold if they will be used for gay marriages.’ ”

The ruling could have hardly been less of a ringing endorsement of either “side.”

4. To which I say, “Good.” As I wrote the last time this case was discussed here,
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An Ethics Alarms Challenge: Defend Criticism Of The Brooklyn Museum’s Hiring Of Two White Curators Of Its African Art Collections Without Endorsing Racism

The Ethics Alarms verdict is that such a defense is impossible. Asks the Huffington Post in its “Black Voices” section, “People Want To Know Why Brooklyn Museum’s New African Art Curator Is White.” Why are they asking this? The answer is obvious and backed by the curriculum vitae of the two (not one) scholars hired, Drew Sawyer and Kristen Windmuller-Luna. They are eminently qualified for their new jobs, and the color of job applicants is not, and never should be considered “a credential.”

From the museum’s release:

Windmuller-Luna will rethink the Brooklyn Museum’s extensive collection of African art, which is comprised of more than 6,000 objects, and organize a freshly conceived temporary installation showcasing the depth of the collection. Her focus will be to create a dialogue between the African art collection and other works within the museum’s holdings while also helping to develop educational programming.

As a curator and historian of African arts and architecture, with a specialization in the early modern period and Christian Ethiopia, her work counters myths about African civilizations and artistic production by focusing on cultural specificity, artistic diversity and global historical context. Windmuller-Luna received her Ph.D. and M.A. in Art and Archaeology from Princeton University and her B.A. in the History of Art from Yale University.

Drew Sawyer will reimagine the role of photography collection within the museum and explore ways to integrate it with other collection galleries and exhibitions.

Sawyer is currently Head of Exhibitions and the William J. and Sarah Ross Soter Associate Curator of Photography at the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio. He is also a co-organizer of the upcoming historical survey Art after Stonewall, 1969 to 1989 which will tour during the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 2019. Sawyer holds a Ph.D. in Art History and Archaeology from Columbia University, specializing in North American art and visual culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

“Kristen’s vision for a new permanent collection installation that transforms how viewers relate to the arts of Africa is tremendously exciting for us as we near the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Museum’s pioneering exhibition of African art in 1923, ”said Deputy Director and Chief Curator Jennifer Chi. “Drew’s deep expertise in social and experimental documentary practices during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries will significantly augment our strong collection and will contribute to our history of championing contemporary artists who continue in this vein.”

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/24/18: Ethics Musings While Not Marching [UPDATED]

A Good Saturday Morning To All!

[If you had a speech impediment and lisped your “s’s”, would you choose this song as your only solo among the repertoire of your singing group? Why didn’t Karen tell her bother? This has mystified me for decades…]

1  It’s irrational and pointless fury day in D.C. Today hundreds of thousands of intellectually dishonest, ignorant or purely emotional citizens will be doing the equivalent of screaming at the sky to call for “something” to be done about gun violence., because “think of the children.” Yes, I think that’s a fair characterization.

Given the chance to suggest actual measures that would stop the equivalent of the Parkland shooting, one of my usually rational but currently virtue-signalling-to beat-the-band friends really made this pathetic argument in response to a Facebook post that was a shorter, gentler version of what I just posted on Ethics Alarms: ‘Where is your empathy? Would you feel this way if your son had been killed in the Parkland shooting?”

Can you believe that? “How would you feel if you were so emotionally ruined, angry and despairing that you couldn’t think straight?” Why, I believe that I would be so emotionally ruined, angry and despairing that I couldn’t think straight—and thus useless to any serious and objective public policy discussion. As I told my friend, when “Why can’t you be irrationally and emotionally biased like the rest of us?” is your reflex rebuttal, you’ve got nothin.

2. Related: YouTube is banning gun instructional videos. This a part of a growing trend in the online platform world to attempt to constrict information and discourse according to ideology and partisan preferences. There is no more justification for banning how-to videos about guns than there is for banning how-to videos for chain-saws. The social media companies are going to have to be regulated as common carriers, or the right of free speech and access to information will be slowly strangled by these left-wing, high-tech, useful idiots.

3. From the ” Tragic Misunderstandings of the Cognitive Dissonance Scale” files. Lindsay Lohan is the new spokesperson for Lawyer.com. What, O.J. wasn’t available? Continue reading

It’s A Comment Of The Day Weekend! First Up…Comment Of The Day (3): “An Ethics Alarms Holiday Challenge! Identify The Rationalizations, Logical Fallacies, Falsehoods And Outright Errors In This Essay…” AND, In Related News, Another Bakery Gets Slammed In Oregon

I’m not exaggerating: I have at least four Comments of the Day stacked up on the Ethics alarms runway after this one, and there are usually COTDs arriving on Saturdays. I can’t promise to get all of them up today, especially since I’m hacking away at the 2017 Ethics Alarms Awards, and this is a long working weekend at ProEthics. Still, I will get a lot of them to you, and it’s a provocative group, as you will soon see.

But first, a prelude and some context.

An Oregon appellate court this week upheld a ruling against the owners of the since-closed Sweetcakes by Melissa,  Aaron and Melissa Klein, forcing them to pay emotional-distress damages of $135,000 to Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, a lesbian couple for whom they refused to design and sell a wedding cake almost five years ago. The Klein’s argued that state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian violated state and federal laws and their rights as artists to free speech, their rights to religious freedom and their rights as defendants to  due process.

The Oregon court ruled that the Kleins’ argument that their cakes entail an artistic expression is “entitled to be taken seriously,” but it’s not enough for the couple to assert their cakes are pieces of art:

“Although we accept that the Kleins imbue each wedding cake with their own aesthetic choices, they have made no showing that other people will necessarily experience any wedding cake that the Kleins create predominantly as ‘expression’ rather than as food.”

This mess commenced  when Rachel Bowman-Cryer went to the suburban Portland bakery with her mother in January of 2013. When Aaron Klein was told that the wedding did not involve a male partner,  he said that the bakery did not make cakes for same-sex weddings. They left, but soon the mother returned to argue with Klein as Rachel sat in the car, weeping. her mother went in to speak with Klein. The mother told Klein she had once thought like him, but having two gay children forced her to see the error of her ways.  Klein retorted with Leviticus: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”

The complaint and action by Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries followed. You can read the opinion here.

Ugh.

This case is even worse than the one currently before the Supreme Court, discussed here. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day #4: “Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought”

Ryan Harkins’ Comment of the Day, the fourth on the post about the Great Cake Controversy ,responds to #3, by Extradimensional Cephalopod.

The four COTD’s cover a great deal of legal and ethical territory and if not the full spectrum of positions on this difficult topic. Ryan’s three predecessors can be read here:

After you read #4, I’ll ask you which of the COTDs come closest to your own opinion. If the answer is “none of them,” by all means try for #5!

Here is  Ryan Harkins’ Comment of the Day on the post Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought:

EC,

I hate to answer for the baker, so I hope you don’ mind if I respond with how I would answer.

What if I walked into the shop and asked for a wedding cake for no reason at all? Nobody’s getting married; I just want the cake. Is it against his religion to make that style of cake for anything other than weddings?

It would not be against my religion, no.

One thing I want to point out about your line of inquiry here is that you are divorcing the mechanical action of making a cake from the purpose of making a cake. A cake is a cake, and apart from any purpose, it remains a cake with no further meaning than a configuration of confectionery molecules. But the purpose for making the cake defines the context. If you wanted me to bake you a cake so you could bury it in your backyard, I wouldn’t have any religious objections to that, but I would certainly object to having the fruits of my labor just thrown away. Just as I would object if you wanted me to write you a book so could use the pages of the book as toilet paper.

The purpose of making a wedding cake is for it to be displayed and consumed at a wedding. If you aren’t going to use the cake for a wedding, ontologically speaking, could it even be a wedding cake?

Do I have to show him a marriage license?

I wouldn’t require that. My general standpoint would be to take people at their word. That being said, if I knew you and you were known for pranks, were opposed to marriage in general, and nothing I knew about your recent activities hinted at a wedding, I might want some actual proof that a wedding was occurring.

I’m an atheist; will he refuse to acknowledge my marriage because you can’t have marriage without a god? Does only the Christian deity count for a “real” marriage?

Since I’m Catholic, I’ll just toss out what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage. Marriage is universal. Historically, marriage permeates pretty much every culture. Marriage is an institution that has, for the most part, united a man and his wife to the children they bear together. Marriage does not require a profession of faith, because it is a foundational institution of mankind. That is why eating, drinking, and shelter don’t require a profession of faith. They are also foundational aspects of the human condition. So, there is no objection to two atheists marrying.

Where the religious context comes into view is with the nature of that marriage. Catholics profess that Jesus elevated the institution of marriage to a sacrament. This means that a valid marriage between baptized individuals cannot be dissolved save by the death of one of the two parties. But that does not mean every marriage is sacramental. If one of the two parties is not baptized, the marriage is still a valid marriage, but it is not a sacramental marriage. Thus it could be dissolved, and either party would be free to re-marry.

A funny oddity of terminology crops up in Catholic teaching. Since a valid, sacramental marriage cannot be dissolved, but since parties can licitly separate for serious reasons (abuse, abandonment, adultery, addiction), a Catholic can be married and divorced at the same time…

I would argue that the artistic quality of the cake has nothing to do with who is getting married, or if there’s even a marriage at all–at least, as far as religion is concerned.

I agree with you to a certain extent, here. The artistic quality is its own concern. It is the teleological purpose of the cake that is the true contention. So that raises a question: if I bake a cake that I do not intend to be used at a wedding, but looks just like a cake that I do intend to be used at a wedding, is it a wedding cake? To use some technical terms, there is the essence of a thing, and there are the accidents of a thing. The essence of a thing is what is essential to a thing being that thing; accidents are just features that particular thing has that are not essential to a thing being that thing. The essence of a chair is something to sit on. Accidents of a chair are having one leg, or three, or four, having a back, not having a back, etc. So what is the essence of a wedding cake, and what are the accidents of a wedding cake? I think the only essential difference between a wedding cake and a non-wedding cake is the intent for which the cake is made. The only part I waffle on is the cake-topper…

On a separate note, I assert that religion ultimately must be subordinate to the law of the land.

I’m uncomfortable with how you phrase this, so let me toss out what I think about this, and let me know if it does or doesn’t conform with what you’re thinking. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day #3: “Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought”

And now there are FOUR Comments of the Day on the post about the Great Cake Controversy. This is a record number for a single Ethics Alarms post. It is a true ethics conflict: which should have priority in a pluralistic society, the right of all citizens to be treated equally under the law, and to have the government ensure their right to the pursuit of happiness, or the individual right to act and live in concert with one’s sincerely held religious beliefs, and to not be forced into expressive speech, part of the right to liberty? This part of the controversy doesn’t even include the ethical question of whether either party should have allowed this to be come a legal dispute.

When I post the fourth COTD, with was a response to #3, I’ll include links to the other three and include a poll for readers to register their opinion regarding which comes closer to their own view

Here is Extradimensional Cephalopod’s  Comment of the Day on the post Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought:

There’s an obvious question here (well, several) that occurs to me: What if I walked into the shop and asked for a wedding cake for no reason at all? Nobody’s getting married; I just want the cake. Is it against his religion to make that style of cake for anything other than weddings? Do I have to show him a marriage license? I’m an atheist; will he refuse to acknowledge my marriage because you can’t have marriage without a god? Does only the Christian deity count for a “real” marriage?

I would argue that the artistic quality of the cake has nothing to do with who is getting married, or if there’s even a marriage at all–at least, as far as religion is concerned. If I asked someone to draw me a picture of a bird, they don’t have to know anything about me in order to make it. Their art doesn’t have anything to do with me, and they are not expressing any objectionable ideas. They’re not endorsing me in any way by taking me on as a customer. Therefore, this isn’t like refusing to make a swastika cake. This is like refusing to sell a cake to Nazis. (Yes, Nazis should be able to buy cake like anyone else. Preventing them from doing so is just bullying, and won’t teach them anything except more hate. How will they learn how to appreciate different people if only other Nazis talk to them?) Continue reading